Graduate employees of the University of New Mexico have a bone to pick with the university administration for how they are compensated for their work. On Wednesday, Jan. 27, several dozen graduate workers gathered in front of President Garnett Stokes’ residence across from Dane Smith Hall to rally and petition the right for fair compensation. Organizers say that at least 100 vehicles as part of a car caravan rallied around the campus as well.
The group is currently in the process of developing a union. During the 2020 fall semester, a large number of UNM graduate workers signed union cards to join United Graduate Workers of UNM/UE.
“For years we’ve been working under bad conditions and horrible compensation for our labor,” said Len Beké a current Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic Linguistics. “We get paid eight thousand dollars below the livable wage in the state, so we are living in poverty, working 40 to 50 hours per week for the university.”
So far the group has managed to collect nearly 1,000 signatures, over 50 percent of the graduate workers at UNM. The group of student employees filed with the labor board in December.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, in October of 2020, UNM Provost James Holloway was aware of the organizing and told the group, “The university recognizes the rights of our graduate students to decide to organize.” Recently however, UNM responded to the summons from the state’s labor board claiming the group is ineligible to form a union because they aren’t recognized as employees. “They claim that our relation to the university is primarily educational and not economic, which is nonsense,” Beké expressed.
A significant portion of the credit hours offered by UNM are taught by the graduate workers. UNM claims in their position statement that graduate workers don’t form a “community interest”, and therefore, are ineligible for inclusion in any bargaining unit as laid out by the National Labor Relations Board.
“We just want to be treated fairly,” said Ramona Malczynski, a graduate assistant in Environmental Studies. “We have the right to unionize and receive better healthcare and fair compensation.”
There is no date set for UNM to recognize the graduate workers demands for a fair wage, however, the members at the protest say the group will continue to rally until those demands are met.